SAG-AFTRA on Sept. 14 released the following statement regarding the arrest of KPCC journalist Josie Huang on Sept. 12:
“This past Saturday, Los Angeles [County] Sheriff’s Department deputies tackled, held down, handcuffed and arrested SAG-AFTRA member Josie Huang, a public media journalist with radio station KPCC. Huang was visibly credentialed as a working journalist and verbally identified herself as a member of the press. She had done nothing to warrant questioning.
“This is another deeply troubling interaction in a string of police arrests and often violent attacks on working journalists who are abiding by the law and simply trying to do their jobs.”
SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said, “These unconstitutional attacks on the rights of a free press are appalling and must stop now. SAG-AFTRA champions the U.S. Constitution and the work of our journalist members, whose primary role is to provide citizens with the information they need to effectively govern a democracy.
“The people’s right to a free press is guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which establishes that the press shall be free from government interference in the dissemination of information, ideas and opinions.”
SAG-AFTRA National Vice President, Broadcasters Bob Butler, a reporter himself, said, “Reporters cover the news so that the public is informed. It is outrageous that sheriff’s deputies arrested Huang, whose station identification was clearly displayed while she identified herself as a journalist several times.”
The union’s statement continued: “SAG-AFTRA and our members, journalists and non-journalists alike, support a free and unencumbered press and stand with any journalist who might find his or her ability to report on our government challenged or compromised.
“SAG-AFTRA is calling on the Los Angeles [County] Sheriff’s Department to drop all charges and apologize to Josie Huang.”
Those advocating on Huang’s behalf have emphasized that they are not condoning or downplaying the unprovoked shooting of two sheriff’s deputies, which Huang was covering at the time. Although the shooting was captured on surveillance video, the gunman has yet to be identified and the motive remains unknown.
“We unreservedly condemn the vicious attack on the deputies in Compton Saturday night and hope that their assailant is caught and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” SAG-AFTRA said. “We send our heartfelt wishes for the deputies’ full and complete recoveries, and express our deep gratitude to them and to their colleagues who work to keep our communities safe while respecting our rights as citizens in a democratic society.”
The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is an American labor union representing approximately 160,000 film and television actors, journalists, radio personalities, recording artists, singers, voice actors, and other media professionals worldwide.
Video of the arrest, taken by the local ABC affiliate, shows multiple deputies pinning Huang face down against the pavement. KPCC Executive Editor Megan Garvey said Huang had just finished drafting a tweet when she was “tackled and arrested.”
Sheriff’s officials said that Huang “didn’t have proper credentials,” and was taken into custody on suspicion of obstruction of justice by “interfering with a lawful arrest.”
The sheriff’s office said that Huang ran toward a group of deputies as they were struggling with an uncooperative protester they were trying to arrest. Huang “ignored repeated commands to stay back” and “did not identify herself as press,” law enforcement officials said.
KPCC reported that sheriff deputies knocked Huang’s cellphone from her hands when they arrested her. Huang had been recording video at the time. In the video, she can be heard identifying herself as a reporter and yelling, “You’re hurting me.”
In a statement, NPR Senior Vice President of News Nancy Barnes said the organization is “appalled” by Huang’s arrest while performing her job and gathering facts to inform the public. “The rights of journalists are protected by the First Amendment, and essential to an informed public and our democracy.”
Huang was held in the women’s jail at the Century Regional Detention Center, LAist reported. She was released several hours later and cited with obstruction. The charge carries a potential penalty of up to a $1,000 fine and up to a year in jail.
Photos of Huang show scrapes and bruises on her ankle and arms. A KPCC executive told LAist that Huang also had a black eye and a sore shoulder.
“Her arrest is the latest in a series of troubling interactions between our reporters and some local law enforcement officers,” Herb Scannell, chief executive of Southern California Public Radio, said in a statement to The Los Angeles Times. “Journalists provide an essential service, providing fair, accurate and timely journalism and without them, our democracy is at risk.”